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Wednesday, 5 December 1973
Page: 2482

Senator McMANUS (Victoria) (Leader of the Australian Democratic Labor Party) - The issue has been very clearly laid down in this debate. It is the credibility of the Prime Minister (Mr Whitiam) and the Minister for Education (Mr Beazley). The previous speaker, Senator Devitt, has denied that the Prime Minister ever promised that the per capita payments being made last year or this year- 1973- would be continued. He said very definitely that the Prime Minister gave no such undertaking. I am a witness. I was on the platform at a meeting in the Festival Hall in West Melbourne attended by thousands of people at which the Prime Minister made the categorical statement: 'All aid being given at the present time will be continued. No aid being given at the present time will be withdrawn'.

Senator Webster - You will remember that I was there with you.

Senator McMANUS - That is good enough for me. Senator Webster was on the platform and he is an additional witness that the Prime Minister made the promise.

Senator Hannan - I was there too.

Senator McMANUS -Senator Hannan was there also. The Prime Minister has never denied that he said it. The Prime Minister could not deny that he said it because if he ever denies that he made a promise to continue the existing basic per capita payments I am prepared to hold a Watergate afternoon in the Senate when I will play a tape recording, which has not been interfered with, of the Prime Minister's own words. I would challenge any member of his Party, having heard that tape recording, to continue to deny that the Prime Minister made that promise.

But even if he did not, surely the Minister for Education is involved. We have heard Senator Rae quoting the exact words which were not only said by the Minister but also were printed and distributed in a number of private schools before the election. In that statement the Minister for Education called upon the schools to disregard the whispering campaign to the effect that the Government would not continue the aid. Mr Beazley, within 5 weeks of the election, as the prospective Minister for Education, said that the Labor Government would continue the basic per capita payments to all schools as at present. I do not want to continue to worry the subject. Senator Rae has quoted innumerable instances of the promise being made. What I want to say is this: Apparently the Prime Minister wishes to break his promise. I do not accuse Mr Beazley of breaking his promise. I have a high regard for him and I believe that he wanted to keep it but he was overruled. But in the case of the Prime Minister, I say that he made a promise. What we have asked the Prime Minister to do is to keep his word.

There has been a smokescreen of unscrupulous misrepresentation drawn over this whole issue. All that the Opposition has asked for as far as I am aware, is that the Prime Minister should keep his promise which would involve the expenditure of $3m, $4m or $5m. We are considering a Bill that will give almost $500,000,000 to a wide variety of schools, particularly the poor ones. Handouts from Government sources have stated that the Opposition is proposing to give immense sums of money to wealthy schools and to take money away from the other schools, the needy ones. We never suggested anything of the sort. My Party has been prepared to vote and will vote to give every cent proposed to be given by the Government to the schools to which it says it will give the money. All we ask is that the Government add on $4m or $5m in order that it can then be said that the Prime Minister has kept his word.

People say that the Government's proposed action is necessary because it must look after the poor rather than the rich, but this Government has just decided to pay the fees of all university students. If the Government believes in the needs angle, why would it not refuse to pay the fees of university students whose parents are wealthy, and why would it not give the money to needy students? It does not believe in that angle. Every student will have his fees paid, irrespective of whether his father is a millionaire or a wharf labourer. Moreover, the Government is wiping out the means test for pensions. We have seen newspaper reports about people who are supposed to be wealthy- I am sure some of them are not wealthy- and who have applied for the pension. Yet the Government says: 'We will not prevent wealthy people from getting the pension and giving that money to the needy'. It says that all people who are eligible, whether or not they are wealthy, will qualify for the pension. What happens with regard to child endowment? Does the Government ask mothers and fathers how much money they have? Of course it does not. Child endowment is paid to all those eligible to receive it, without the application of any means test. I sense something queer or sinister in the fact that the Government intends to apply a means test in the case of independent schools. The story is that all these schools are wealthy. It is an outrageous lie that all the schools that are wealthy are in category A.

Senator Lillico - That is in the fifty.

Senator McMANUS - The fifty. Senator Rae has referred to a number of schools which are in difficulties and which will get nothing. I refer to the case of the Rabinovitch Yeshivah College at 30-36 Flood Street, Bondi, New South Wales. This is a small Jewish school that caters for the children of orthodox members of the Jewish faith. It is situated in four 50-year-old cottagesthere are no magnificent buildings here- and in the basement of a synagogue in Bondi. The school has 119 pupils in the primary section and 12 pupils in the secondary section. Of these pupils, 85 per cent come from lower-income families and are able to attend the school only because of bursaries provided by members of the Jewish community.

Senator Wheeldon -Didn't the school appeal?

Senator McMANUS - The honourable senator will hear about it. Of the remaining 15 per cent, most pay only part fees and a very small number can afford full fees. There is an average of 7.5 teachers in the primary school and 3 teachers in the secondary school. The teachers all accept low salaries because of a dedicated spirit and in order to keep the school going. The school will finish this year with a $40,000 deficit, although it has tried to keep going by getting donations from Jewish people. Under the Government's plan, all aid is expected to be withdrawn from this school.

Senator Wright - On what basis of reason could anyone do that?

Senator McMANUS - No-one can find out. The school appealed against its classification in category A, but without success. It then asked the Minister, or officials of the Commonwealth Government, at least to visit the school and see its difficulties at first hand, but this approach met with no success. The Department simply wrote a sympathetic letter to say that the decision was final and was not based on religious or other criteria. The Headmaster, Mr Breakspear, says: The only reason that I can give for the Government's refusing us aid is that it imagines that every Jewish child has millionaire parents'. That is only one case. That school appealed and the appeal was refused. Senator Rae referred to other similar cases where applications have been refused. However, according to the Government's propagandists, who seem to have had such a wonderful run, all these schools are wealthy, and every child comes to school in a Rolls Royce. That is the nonsense which has been manufactured by the Government to provide what it believes will be a good election issue.

I repeat that the Opposition is being attacked on the grounds that we want to take away nearly $500m from the schools to which it has been allocated and give to the wealthy. We have not advocated the taking of one cent; we will vote for every cent to be given to those schools. All we have said is that when the Prime Minister and the Minister for Education promise people before an election that they will continue to give at least basic aid to all schools, they should keep their promise. On the needs issue, we say to the Government: Give those schools that aid. When the Government has given that basic aid, all the money that it provides for education in future can be provided on the needs basis. That would be our policy, and before the election it was the policy of the Whitlam Labor Party which made it its policy at that election. I, myself, heard the Prime Minister say this, and Mr Beazley said it on innumerable occasions. We are asking them to do now what they told the people of this country, when they were trying to win an election, that they would do.

I point out to those who think that the Government is on a good thing electorally on this issue that I do not think it is. Let us look at some of the Press comment in leading articles, where this matter has been properly evaluated. The 'Age' describes what the Government is going on with in its propaganda campaign as an elaborate bluff over schools. Its leading article states:

The Prime Minister undeniably has a flair for the dramatic flourish that captivates the gallery and confounds his opponents. With some highly deceptive foreplay by his Acting Minister for Education he has created the illusion that the Government's whole schools aid program is being irredeemably jeopardised by Opposition obstructionism . . .

Later, the article states:

It would be a neat trick if he could pull it off, but it would be a trick; there is always the risk that people would not be fooled.

It also states that the DLP is not proposing to defeat the relevant legislation or to reject the allocation of schools aid on a needs basis or to redistribute the allocation of funds already announced. The article concludes:

On the contrary, the Opposition Parties are trying to induce the Government to give just a huie more- apparently $5m more.

Do honourable senators opposite disagree with that?

Senator Devitt - What about $ 1 14m more?

Senator McMANUS -It is not $114m. That was the most disgraceful suggestion in this whole propaganda campaign. Never at any time did the Opposition ask for $1 14m- that was the propaganda trick of the Government's hired writers. On the contrary, what we said was that all we wanted was $5m so that the Prime Minister's promises would be kept. The leading article in the Brisbane 'Courier Mail' states:

Threats of a double dissolution aside, the entire Federal schools grants program could be held up by this week's Senate clash.

The Opposition demands are reasonable- that schools which have lost their grants under the Karmel Committee report should continue to receive them.

This would allow all schools to continue to receive some Commonwealth Government recognition.

In his speech, Mr Beazley said that he personally would like all schools to be associated with the Commonwealth in this way. This article also states that there is nothing in Labor's policy speech for the last election to indicate that grants are to be withdrawn. It states that last year Mr Whitlam, as Opposition Leader, said that the Australian Labor Party would support any forms of benefit already existing. Even the 'Sydney Morning Herald' had something to say on the issue. I do not have dme to quote the article in full, but it merely states that this is not a genuine campaign by the Government to defend the under-privileged schools, and refers to this as point scoring, and that is all it is. The paid propagandists have been put to work to manufacture this into an election issue. I repeat that never at any time have we suggested taking a penny from the schools to which money has already been allocated and giving it to the wealthy schools. All we have said is: 'Give them the lot and we will vote for it. But at least carry out your promise and give the $3m or $4m to the schools to which you promised to give it'. This promise was made by the Prime Minister and the Minister for Education before the last election.

I am very disappointed with the attitude of the Government. I wish that it had allowed itself to be advised on this issue by Mr Beazley. I have every confidence in him. Any suggestion that he may have made a promise and broken it would not be a valid one because we have to remember that although he can make a promise he is bound by the decision of his Party. I have every respect for him and I believe that the Bill before us would have been different if he had had his way. I am not terribly keen on all this talk about giving money to schools. I believe that we should talk about giving money to children. That is why I support money being allocated on a per capita basis. As far as I am concerned we are not giving money or we ought not to be giving money to schools. What we ought to do is to allocate money to children and the parents of those children can choose the school to which they will go. But I am also aware that there are people in the community who would like to make a legal challenge to any aid to independent schools. Those people would be suited down to the ground if they could prove that a subvention was being given to a religion through a school instead of a child receiving an education grant.

No one can cavil at the principle of money being given to children. As a teacher for 19.5 years I was always under the impression that all Austraiian children were entitled to equal rights. What about some of these so-called wealthy schools? I know the position of these schools because I have been to them. In some instances a child is kept at one of these schools because the parents out of a feeling of sacrifice feel that the child should be there. I know of many cases in which the fees are paid not only by the father but also by the mother who has to go to work. Do honourable senators realise that a considerable number of children who attend one of the socalled wealthy schools in Melbourne get there on scholarships and would not be able to attend this school otherwise? I think that those people who suggest that these schools are rolling in wealth have never been near them. I suggest that it would be a good thing if they had a look at the balance sheets of some of these so-called wealthy schools. But, as I have pointed out, it is not only the wealthy schools that will be affected by this legislation. Senator Rae and I have given examples of schools that are in a difficult situation. Senator Devitt was shocked when I mentioned a Jewish school which has been disadvantaged because of the categorisation. He said: 'Why did they not appeal?' I said: 'They did appeal but they were turned down'. Senator Devitt said that there must be something wrong and I agree with him.

Senator Devitt - I did not say that.

Senator McMANUS - Well, I am sorry. It was someone on his side of the chamber. I withdraw that. But Senator Devitt definitely- definitely, I say- did make a plea on the basis that the prime Minister had never made the promises which I heard him make and which I am prepared to play at a Watergate afternoon in this place on any occasion he wishes.

Senator Devitt - God forbid.

Senator McMANUS - Senator Devittsays: God forbid'. I agree with him. It would be a pity if we played them because it would destroy our faith in the Prime Minister in the same way, perhaps, as President Nixon has had his faith destroyed. Down at that same meeting at which Mr Whitlam promised aid to schools a person said: 'Let us take 2 people in the community, both with the same income and the same assets. One decides to send his son to Melbourne Boys High School which has magnificent buildings and a magnificent staff. There is not a wealthy school in Australia at which one would get better teaching. Everything about that school is top class. It is an elitist school and it is only one of a number. This boy is going to get, according to the needs basis set out by this Government, practically everything except some small incidental sports fees and others. The Government will pay everything. But another man says that he will send his son to a private school at which he has to pay $1,000 or, the way fees are going up, $1,500 a year'. The Prime Minister was asked how he could account for a method whereby a boy in a

State school gets exactly the top elitist education which is received by a boy in one of the top private schools, the former without his parents paying practically anything and the latter with his parents having to pay enormous sums because the Government believes in a needs basis. The Prime Minister was asked: 'How do you answer that?' He said: 'I cannot answer that question'.

This year education costs are rising steeply. Every school, particularly a private school, will find that it will be called on for heavily increased sums of money. However, the Government has determined that this is a good time to take away from certain schools the assistance that has helped them to keep going. What about the position of the father and mother in the country who in most cases have to send their children to private schools in the cities because the Government, except in a few instances, does not run boarding schools? What the Government is saying to those parents in the country is that it will discriminate against them. But these people have to send their children to one of these big private schools because it is only schools of this type which can afford to have boarding areas. The Government will force up the fees of children who attend boarding schools.

The situation makes one wonder. I went to a university years ago only because I received scholarships. Today the rich can go to universities and trie Government pays for everything. The Government also pays wealthy pensioners as well as the poor pensioners. There is no needs system for people attending universities or receiving pension payments or child endowment. The means test is out. Why then is the Government imposing a means test in the case of schools? Some parents who have children attending what they regard as deprived schoolssome of these are religious schools- have said to me: 'Look, we are going to get more money; you ought to vote for this '.

Senator Rae - The new term is 'politically disadvantaged ' schools.

Senator McMANUS - Yes. These people write to me. I say to those parents: 'Do you not realise that the aid promised by this Government is only of a temporary nature? If the aid enables the school that your child attends to be improved, at a certain point under the Government system aid will be cut off'. Who is going to tell me that this method will not result in a system whereby gradually the independent schools are phased out because of rising costs and lack of resources? That is the fact-the ugly fact- that they have to face.

I conclude by saying once again that all the unscrupulous propaganda has been to the effect that we want to take money from the poor schools and give it to the wealthy schools. We have never at any time said that. All we have asked is that every penny continue to be given to the government and the underprivileged schools. We have said that we will vote to give them every penny the Government proposes to give them. All we ask of the Government is this: Having made a promise before the election and received thousands of votes because of that promise, it should keep its promise and give to the small number of A class schools that are left the basic per capita grants which Mr Whitlam and Mr Beazley pledged themselves as honourable men to give.

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